Rebranding an Icon

Rev. James Lawson makes a point during his remarks to the Interfaith Solidarity Network.

With each passing holiday honoring the memory of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the public can receive different and thought-altering definitions of the noted civil rights advocate and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

The Rev. James Lawson — a longtime activist, a leading theoretician and tactician of nonviolence within the Civil Rights Movement, and former university professor — did so this week in the Valley.  

“We must stop calling Martin Luther King, Jr. a ‘civil rights leader.’ Because Martin Luther King, Jr. prepared [himself] to be a preacher, prophet, teacher, theologian,” Lawson said.

“He said all the time that ‘I’m a pastor.’ To say that what happen to King is [part of] the civil rights movement is a disgrace. It’s also racist. Religions, then, do not have to face up to the fact of the nonviolence spirituality and methodology in history, of the human family King represents for Western civilization.”

Speaking at the Interfaith Solidarity Network’s “In the Spirit of Rev. Dr. Luther King, Jr.” breakfast on Tuesday, Jan. 21, at the St. Paul United Methodist Church in Tarzana, Lawson, 91 — a close ally and advisor to King — noted “my connections with Martin Luther King, Jr., are not ordinary connections. They are mystical, providential connections.”

“I turned the other cheek. I stopped beating up on people who used racist epithets on me by the fourth grade, in Ohio. And I want to insist to you that racism is a national disease, and always has been.”

From his first meeting with King in 1956 at Oberlin College in Ohio, Lawson said he instinctively knew King “was my spokesperson in the struggle. I had no ambitions of being actively engaged, but I knew King, was my leader chosen by God, chosen by history. It was a  mystical relationship that changed my life.”

If you want to describe what King was the founder and leader of and strategist for, Lawson said, refer to his work instead as the “Martin Luther King - Rosa Parks Nonviolent Movement in America. Or call it, as some historians do, ‘The Black Freedom’ or ‘Black Justice Movement,’ or ‘The Black Church Movement.’ We could not done what we did without the Black church.”

Lawson reiterated that King “led and caused an uprising of a nonviolent moment in Western civilization,” which calls for “a radical, 180-degree turn, not only of Western history, but also of the religions — especially [in] the United States.”

Lawson punctuated his remarks by saying, “Religions must wipe out of their experience of the blessing of violence in every form, no matter how painful that might be. If you think violence has some validity, take a good, hard look at Northern Africa, and what’s called the Middle East, and Central Asia…how long will we keep doing the same thing, and pretend that doing the same thing somehow has ethical value in the universe?”

Another community breakfast in the Valley took place at the Boys & Girls Club in Pacoima on Monday, Jan. 20. There, several noted politicians — state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, Assemblymember Luz Rivas, activist Jose De Souza and volunteer Barbara Grant — were presented community service awards

Other honorees included Pastor H. Cathy Purdom (posthumous) and the All Nations Church.

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